House of leaves

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Every house needs a foundation to stand on – this house of leaves is built on the David Roberts Art Foundation (DRAF) in London. Inside it, you dwell among artworks, intellectuals, resident curators, and an inquiring public – all brought together by the initiatives of curator and director Vincent Honoré. In this interview, he opens the doors to some of the rooms in his house, and lets us in on his plans for one of the most dynamic spaces in the city. The doors to A House of Leaves, 3rd Movement unlock on January 17.

Based in London, DRAF supports, collects and exhibits contemporary art and hosts various series of events, workshops and residencies. Here, Honoré talks about his understanding of the contemporary art scene, the role of the curator and intellectual, and last but not least, his relationship to Paris.

Shall we begin by discussing your take on exhibition making, in which the focus is on curating. In A House of Leaves, the current show at DRAF, the main gesture is the curator’s gesture. The works of art follow this gesture.
It’s funny, because it is exactly the contrary that I wanted to do. Everything is coming from the works, each movement is determined by a single artwork. We study this artwork in depth, and around that we position other artworks.

But still it is your gesture that is positioning the artwork. One can see that the connections are determined by the main artwork, but after that it’s all about your choices.
Surely, it is my choice.

Maybe you can tell me more about the process of curating the show, how it is part of your program here at DRAF. Because the program is focusing on curating – you have side projects by curatorial collectives such as FormContent, for example.
It is focusing very much on curating – curators as authors, if you wish. Being a curator can mean a range of things, from administrator to artist. I’m not entirely agreeing with curators who declare themselves to be artists. My personal methodology would not allow me to say I was an artist – I am not one, and this is very clear to me.

It is interesting you should say that the curator is very present here, because he is, in a way. The program is based on curatorial activity, we have a curator’s series, we invite every year a curator – it’s not an open call, I follow the work of some people, then we invite them to do an exhibition here.

We also organise in this building different activities related to curatorial methodology. Why do we want the curators to be very much present in this building? Because it is important to promote a certain curatorial methodology, the curator as researcher, as the author of an exhibition.

Maybe you can tell me more about this three-movement show you are putting on at DRAF, and the narrative quality it has to it.
It’s an exhibition that is structured like a symphony in three movements and an epilogue, and each movement is centred around a single artwork, which becomes a sort of lead singer setting the tone of the piece. The first one was a sculpture by Louise Bourgeois from 2007, quite abstract. From her we started with the fragmented body, a structure made of disjunctive parts, and arrived in abstraction.

The second movement, now on view, is an exhibition organized around a work by Gerhardt Richter, a very abstract work produced through the process of erasing that he developed in response to the trauma of WW2. The movement of this show is from abstraction to performance.

The third movement, opening on January 17, will be around a performance by Pierre Huyghe, originated by a musical score by John Cage, 4’33’’. So from performance we are going through to volume as music. The epilogue will be a movement towards emptiness, where we will empty the whole building to reveal semi-permanent works. The show will last for three days and end with a musical performance, a five-hour concerto by Morton Feldman for Philip Guston.

Why this movement? Because the chain of metonymies allows us to question different things. The first theme was the museum as a collection. The second is the museum as a school, because on this occasion we have launched what could be understood as our educational program. As a matter of fact we are questioning that: is the museum a tool to educate? The third theme will be the museum as a stage, and the last one the museum as a building. Through this, we question our position and our validity as a structure.

The current exhibition then has its place in this questioning. In a way it is a narrative as well because, as things are constantly moving in the exhibition, it means you will never see it in its entirety, therefore you have to complete it by yourself, so in a way it is you who is the curator.
Another way to think of this exhibition is to see it as pointing towards three or four directions in contemporary art. The first movement is about the fragmented figure, surrealism, works speaking about disaster, formally quite sensual – they are made of bronze, of wood.

The second movement is indeed about abstraction, with a cynical take on minimalism – as in the fold in Anselm Reyle’s work, the traces of coffee cup on the sculpture. The third movement will be about dance, music and systems – I would not say conceptual art, but systems. The last movement will question the position of the artwork in the museum: is an artwork positioned because of an exhibition, or can it last longer than the exhibition, and in that case is the artwork an object or a system? Here we think an artwork is a system, which means it is not reducible to an object, and it is delayed action as well. All these movements explore new ways of experiencing art.

And you try to create a certain public as well. It seems as though you are trying to attract people who will become part of the house.
The exhibition is called A House of Leaves, and the title was carefully chosen. “Museum” is a word coming from the Greek “mouseion”, and refers to a gathering of people who are talking about certain topics – they were the philosophers. These topics related to objects, which they started collecting. That is how the museums appeared. The idea behind this place, this museum, is that of a house, with a host and guests. A house in which you feel at home, where you can have an intimate relationship with the artworks, where thoughts develop – Marcel Proust said that the museum is a house of thoughts.

I find that beautiful, because all over the world there are wonderful museums, but I find it difficult to connect to the thoughts behind them, I cannot co-produce these thoughts. I think we are coming to a time when ignorance and knowledge do not exist anymore.

The museum is not an instance of knowledge speaking to an ignorant audience. No, we are making the show together – that’s why this exhibition is constantly changing, you have to complete it yourself. The curatorial gesture is no longer the Duchampian one of putting an urinal in the exhibition space and saying ‘this is art’, it is allowing you to co-produce the exhibition.

Certainly you have the advantage of scale – you’re not the MOMA or the Tate.
Precisely. We have a different agenda as well, because everything is free, and the fact that we are a charity means we do not have to justify the number of visitors. This means I can easily refuse populism. We are not speaking to the masses, but to intelligent, educated individuals. If they don’t know, they can know. They can go to the Tate, or google artists or movements. No need to compromise.

I’m curious how you perceived the difference between Paris and London. You’ve lived in both cities, and I read many French themes in your program. Paris makes a point of being intellectual, but contemporary art isn’t very alive there, as opposed to London. Seems to me you are trying to create a program which brings the best out of these two cities.
Thank you! I think the offer here is extraordinary, in terms of artistic structures: museums, private foundations, galleries, independent projects. It makes London one of the most vivid cities in the world to experience different ranges of art. Contemporary art is a cultural object here, people are very aware of it. It is extraordinary that an artist such as Damien Hirst can achieve such a level of fame.

Would you make a show with him?
Yes, he is a very interesting artist and I would love to question his work.

It seems that not much of that has been done, critics usually stop at the first level.
True. His painting especially – I would very much like to speak to him about that. I would like to ask what his relationship with Marcel Broodthaers is, through still lives of the 17th century or humour.

Back to Paris, it is a city where something was going on long time ago, in the ‘30s, then came the war and the shame which followed, a shame which was never acknowledged. We wanted to be proud again, but this pride came from art which was a little bit old-fashioned in the ‘40s and ‘50s. There was no general dynamism, but luckily we had a few personal positions, like those of Yves Klein or Daniel Buren. This also meant the private sector was never really dynamic.

There’s also a certain shame about money, about art being part of a circuit.
In France, the market is evil – which is insane, because the market is neither good nor evil, the market is the market. Some works cost millions, because they are worth millions! France is very suspicious of collectors. This changed in the past years, essentially because the public sector wished to open a space, the Palais de Tokyo, that would be both publicly and privately funded. That meant that collectors could come out of the closet and show their support for the arts, not only through collecting but also through supporting foundations.

Soon after, more foundations opened in Paris: Maison Rouge, Kadist. They are creating cultural debates such as Saatchi had created in the ‘80s in London. One must remember we didn’t have the economic boom London experienced in the ‘90s.

Can we maybe finish on this idea – being contemporary. It seems such an important word – only yesterday I was at a conference where the philosopher Peter Osborne talked about contemporaneity as the temporality of globalisation. He said that knowing what contemporaneity is – something which he saw as a very disjunctive notion – was the task we should set to ourselves at this point. It is interesting you should mention this notion in connection to art. Maybe you can explain its meaning and relevance. Did it have the same relevance 10 years ago?
I don’t know if it was the same 10 years ago. I don’t think of contemporaneity as being linked with some kind of globalism of information. I think of it more in the sense of Giorgio Agamben: the contemporary is this sort of black hole which you can never achieve, it is always outside, like the sun in Georges Bataille, or Euridice for Orpheus, if you see her she disappears. It’s not a goal – I don’t think you should say to yourself  “I want to be contemporary”. But it is about being aware of what’s going on in terms of philosophical thought, forms created by artists (musicians and writers included). My program is about that: how we can create, collaborate – how we can co-exist.

Do you think then that being contemporary is a comfortable position? Does it make a spectator out of you, or on the contrary gets you too deep into the action?
I tend not to be too much into the action actually. I like keeping a distance. That’s why I live between Paris and London – if I was living full time in London, I would never have the chance to take this distance. Also, there is a saying that the curator is always late, because the artwork precedes the curatorial gesture. In that sense, I wouldn’t try to show the latest artists, because I don’t find that interesting. Being contemporary is not the now…

… it’s like a state of being.
Exactly. In the first movement we showed a Man Ray from ‘68 which was extremely contemporary. On the other hand, there are young artists today who are seen as already off, because they have had their ‘moment of glory’.

by Cristina Bogdan

House of Leaves, 3rd Movement opens at DRAF on January 17


Posted: 24 January 2013

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